Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Chicago Marathon Race Experience. Episode 1.

Welcome to my Chicago Marathon Race/Vacation/Experience!
Episode 1. 
     I honestly have no idea how to start this blog post regarding my recap experience of Chicago Marathon. I know there are LOTS of people who have ran this race before and LOTS of people that have ran races much bigger than this one. This was the largest race to date for me and I was just a wee bit overwhelmed.  I could really end it right here with...I LOVED EVERY MINUTE and be done with it.

     But I won't. I will attempt to humor you with the story of my race experience with Coach Plaid Shorts aka my very crazy husband and his first marathon, the never ending pics of the #BubbleGumMoose and the ridiculous amount of Selfies that I took during the race.

So here goes....Episode 1.

     We headed to the airport bright and early to catch the first flight out, and of course, it was delayed but luckily I ran into one of my dearest friends, Leigh who was not running the Chicago Marathon but was instead going as a spectator to cheer on #TeamPlaidShorts and some of our other closest running pals. This girl kept me laughing in the airport for the first couple of hours of my day.  Out loud belly laughing. Seriously, Leigh is my roomie for Dopey Challenge in a few months. I don't think we could ever have a bad time! I knew that we were about to have a fun weekend.
Airport fun with Leigh!
     About our flight...when my hubby suprised me with a surprise trip to NYC a few months ago, he booked our trip on Priceline.com. Overall, he did a FABULOUS job with our hotel and travel arrangements. He's definitely not a travel agent, but he tried and that's all that counts.  You can read my review of my NYC trip here.  The trip was great but the flight was just AWFUL. We were booked on United Airlines and I swore then that I would never fly anything but Southwest Airlines again for a very long time. Southwest Airlines is definitely not the most luxurious airline out there but really, it's quick. And It's easy. I can almost always book a direct, hassle-free flight. And NO, Southwest Airlines is not paying me to say this.  I'm just a total fan and I've not had any major issues with them. EVER. I can check 2 FREE bags per me. Do you hear me?? I'm an overpacker. That $25 per bag with United Airlines....yeah, you can keep that. I can even deal with my little bit of a flight delay on this trip. So needless to say, I made all of the travel arrangements on this trip and I wasn't in a hurry.

     So we made it onto our flight, I snoozed hard for a couple of hours and then we landed in beautiful Chicago. Oh hey cold weather. #WhereDidYouComeFrom?

     I had told my husband that on my previous trips to Chicago, my sister and I had learned how to navigate the train system resulting in saving money on the cab fares and that was the way that we were going to get to our hotel this time also. He was pretty skeptical. He's not a fan of my shenanigans but I'm usually in the know and he just deals with it. ;)

     So hubs is on a mad mission to get to the baggage claim. Typical Male...Always on a mission. Problem--we don't have our luggage. Solution--go immediately to baggage claim. Gotta make good time. No stopping. Freak in the airport. But before we make it to the baggage claim, I spotted Jesse Jackson on the escalator. Hold up.....Let the shenanigans begin. Now, am I really a fan of everything Jesse Jackson believes in and talks about? No. But have I prayed with Jesse Jackson before in downtown Birmingham. Yep. Am I about to get a selfie with him with the I've-Been-Sleeping-So-Hard-With-My-Mousth-Open-On-A-Plane-Look?? Absolutely. My Husband is not amused. LOL. And I made him get a picture with Jesse Jackson too. Even Better. Christmas Card Material!
Jesse Jackson in the house!
Jesse Jackson is the newest member of #TeamPlaidShorts. ;)  

  
Onto the Baggage Claim.....We got our luggage no prob. Moving on to the Orange Line...We found the train system, bought our $3 tickets and were off to downtown Chicago. I highly recommend taking the train. Why spend $25-$30 on a cab? It's just as quick, easy to navigate and our train stop was two blocks away from the hotel where we were staying. Easy Peasy. However, if you don't like rolling your suitcase for two blocks, riding to your hotel with strangers and having to figure things out on your own, then take the cab. I'm ridiculously low maintenance and just like to save a dollar so I go the cheap route when I can. I even talked the guy in front of me on the plane into taking the train. I hope he will read this post....he will probably think that's pretty funny. He was all set to take the cab and was telling me all about how he had no idea where to catch a cab, Yada Yada...I told him all about the train. We lost him during the Jesse Jackson extravaganza but after we boarded the train, a few minutes later my hubby looks over and says.."unbelievable. The guy from the plane is on the train. How do you do it? I swear I don't how you do it." I'm still laughing about that! And if Jesse Jackson didn't have his own car, I would have tried to make him ride the train too. Lol

     Checking In....Rewind for a moment back to the Spring when I first learned that my husband and I were accepted into the Chicago Marathon. From the moment that I got the email (I got my husbands' early that morning and mine late in the afternoon), I started researching hotels with close proximity to the Start/Finish Line of the marathon. To this day, I will say that was probably one of the smartest things that I ever did. I knew that I would be okay to walk a few blocks but I also knew that my husband would do better staying super close by.  I immediately booked the Congress Plaza Hotel which was right across the street from Millennial Park (Home of the Chicago Marathon).
The gorgeous lobby and chandy candy at Congress Plaza Hotel. 

OMG. These elevators are beautiful!
Loved all of the detail in the hotel. 
     The other option that I was leaning heavily toward was the Hilton (Downtown Chicago location). The next time that I run Chicago Marathon...and I say next time because I WILL run this race again, I will consider staying at the Hilton. Don't get me wrong, Congress Plaza was GORGEOUS. It was old. It had charm. It was very close to the race. Rooms with a race/park view were even available. However, the Hilton was Chicago Marathon Headquarters. Home base. The inside lobby was decked out for the race. Heck, even the elevator doors had scenes from previous Chicago marathons on them. At the end of the day, for financial reasons, I went with Congress Plaza. It was almost $100 cheaper per night. I loved the elevator doors but not for $100 more a night. I'm completely satisfied with my choice. I had friends who stayed at the Hilton and I even ate dinner there one night instead of going out on the town but Congress Plaza Hotel was my home away from home for the three nights that I was in Chicago for the marathon.
The lobby elevators in the Hilton Downtown Chicago.
     #BubbleGumMoose....From the lobby, to the room, to my view....everything was just perfect. I decided not to go with the marathon race view from my room. After all, it was $15 more a night for that view. No way. That's a whole lot of Chicago Pizza that I could eat instead! THANK GOODNESS I didn't. My view from room was fabulous and I would have never fallen in love with #BubbleGumMoose.  How crazy is that??  I fell in love with a moose. A moose that blows bubbles. From bubblegum. On the side of a building. What's happening here??
The view from my room at Congress Plaza Hotel.
     That's right. #BubbleGumMoose. That was the first thing that I noticed from my view when I pulled back the curtain and looked out the window. I told my husband..."Well look at that. We get to see a BubbleGumMoose every day." He said..."Ummm. you noticed that first? You didn't notice the most iconic building in all of Chicago first?" I guess I didn't. My brain is always searching for the unusual. I don't notice the things that most people see. I certainly thought that the #BubbleGumMoose was a happy fella and there was something about him that I liked. My husband just shook his head and said..."here we go". He knew. I was off in Kristin World ....he has no idea what happens there. ;)
     Another thing that I really enjoyed was that we opened the windows half-way and let the cool air in. I heard the trains, the taxis, the city. I do not hear that where I live at night. If I opened my windows, I would hear birds chirping, crickets and frogs. And quiet. I hear lots of quiet. Living in Alabama is peaceful and not near as fast-paced but I like to hear the city when I'm in the city. If I look out my window, I see trees and I see my neighbors' porch lights but I definitely don't see people walking around on the sidewalks, see cars below my window, big buildings and bright lights. The #BubbleGumMoose was slapped in the middle of the city madness. He was a treat for me and I loved him.
Meet #BubbleGumMoose
     So as we were sitting around in our room, the hubs had to catch up on some work. He's always working. :)

     I sat around doing research on the Expo, things to do in Chicago and trying to find out the deets on this crazy moose. Not that it mattered but I wanted to know the story behind him. Here's what I found out....I'm always working too. :)

SOUTH LOOP — The South Loop's galleries, performers and artists will explode onto Wabash Avenue Friday for the annual Wabash Arts Corridor Crawl.

The free arts and culture walking tour runs from 4-9 p.m., beginning in the first floor lobby of 623 S. Wabash Ave. and leading visitors through 12 galleries down Wabash Avenue from Van Buren Street to Roosevelt Road.

Along the way, dance performances, concerts and pop-up food and drink stations serving local fare will entertain viewers to celebrate the start of Columbia College's new school year.

The showcase also celebrates the ongoing partnership between Columbia College Chicago and other South Loop organizations hoping to revitalize the Wabash Corridor as an arts destination, an initiative backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called for more installations in the neighborhood over the winter.

"I have seen firsthand the power the arts can have to transform a neighborhood economically and well as culturally," he said in a statement.

Highlights of this year's crawl include a nearly 50-square-foot photographic banner titled "Moose Bubblegum Bubble" that hugs the south exterior wall of Columbia's 33 E. Congress Parkway building and jazz performances at Buddy Guy’s Legends.

---So technically, his name is really "Moose Bubblegum Bubble" but I'm still going to call him #BubblegumMoose. ;)

     On to the Expo.....We took a 15 minute shuttle ride from the Hilton to the The Abbot Health & Fitness Expo. It was definitely not within walking distance from our hotel. Once we arrived, I was prepared for mass chaos. It was the total opposite. The expo was HUGE but so well organinzed. I could tell that this was not their first rodeo!  
Welcome to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Abbot Health and Fitness Expo!
HUGE signs everywhere to point you in the right direction.
Sorry for the blurry pic but the packet pickup booths were basically empty.
No lines...and this was around 4pm. I was shocked!

Once the QR Code on our packet pickup ticket was scanned, we were informed on the iPad which number booth to go to. Once we got to that booth, the volunteer had already gotten notification and pulled our packets out and had them waiting for us. No lines. No waiting. No books to flip through to find our names....GENIUS!!
This was a feature that other races whose names shall remain anonymouse need to adopt.
Oh whoops. I didn't mean to spell anonymouse with an extra e ;)

First stop. My packet pickup QR code was scanned and I had to verify that the information was correct.
Yep. That's me. 41 year old Kristin Long...
Female from the good ole USA running the Chicago Marathon. EEEEK!
Got my bib....super proud moment for me.
I'm feeling like a BIG TIME Marathoner.
     We got our bibs from Participant Services and then headed out to have a little fun and do some shopping! The Nike booth was just one of the coolest. Lots of photo opps....The technology was super cool. We could scan our bibs and then our names and different logos would come up on the screen behind us.
I managed to get a smile out of the hubs...
he hates taking pics so this is a rare moment.
Since Nike is one of the official sponsors of this race, their logos were everywhere!
#OWNCHICAGO....I got this!
     I think we visited almost every single booth...Some of my favorites? Nike, Brooks, Runner's World. My husbands favorite?? The Mexico Marathon booth. Anytime he can make me wear a Mexican Wrestling mask....he does! Crazy man.
Stopped by the Brooks shopping area and the fitting rooms were porta potty's, clean of course.
Runners will "get" this.
It's always a good day when I get to chat with Bart Yasso.
Somehow we started talking about his marathons from 20+ years ago...and pizza.
My event shirt and Nike Shirt from the Expo...believe it or not, that was all that I bought!
There was just so much to choose from that I couldn't make any rational decisions so I didn't buy anything else. I do have severe buyers remorse about not buying a long-sleeve shirt or a jacket. #LessonLearned.
Live for the LONG run...hehe.

Here we are in all of our Mexican Wrestling Mask glory.
     Bring on the Pizza.....After the expo, we were all starving! I must have asked 50 people before I went to Chicago, "Where is your favorite place to eat pizza in Chicago?" Probably half of my answers were "You HAVE to eat at Lou Malnati's". So of course with numbers like that, I had to. One word. DELISH.

     Lou Malnati's was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel so we walked over. We waited for about 45 minutes for our table and then our pizza came not too much longer after we sat down. We pre-ordered our pizza while we waited. Lifesaver. 
Lou Malnatti's Selfie with Leigh and blue dot on my face....
I'm sleepy, hungry and delirious at this point in the night!
     We couldn't really decide which kind to get so we ordered three different varieties of Chicago style Deep Dish Pizza. I don't think it mattered which ones we ordered either...they were all so good. I'm the veggie pizza eater, so I did a fantastic job on putting a dent in the pizza with the spinach and mushrooms. The other three people at my table did a good job on theirs too. :)

Operation: Eat All the Chicago Pizza.
     So there you have it....we had a GREAT first day with friends in Chicago. We traveled, we checked in, we expo'd, we ate pizza. Full day ahead for episode 2. Stay tuned....

Goodnight #BubbleGumMoose.....